Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Another Special Meeting, Plus an Executive Meeting - All on the Same Day!

Yesterday we had yet another special council meeting, as well as the regularly scheduled Executive Meeting. Special council meetings are getting to be special in name only - in the past 18 months we must have had close to 40 special meetings. In my previous six years on council I think we only had two or three. While there is nothing stopping council having special meetings whenever one is called, as long as there is adequate notice, I think that they should be saved for matters that are truly a crisis. My main problem with special meetings, besides the short notice, is that the cable cameras aren't there, and the public isn't usually aware of these meetings, so decisions are made without the public being as completely informed as they could and should be.

This special meeting was to deal with how the extra money from the province will be allocated, and to issue a tender for repairs to the Riverside Drive overpass. In my opinion, these items could have been easily handled at next Monday's regular meeting.

The extra money will go to the two items that were overlooked in the city's budgeting process - the extra money needed by the library, and the money required for the street sweeping program. As a council we're fortunate that the province provided the extra money, otherwise the library would be open far fewer hours (hours will have to be reduced slightly), and layoffs would have affected library staff. I voted in favour of allocating the money to these two missed budget items.

I voted against the Riverside Drive overpass tender for a couple of reasons. First, we on council have done nothing to address the problem of trucks running into and damaging the overpass, so the problem is bound to occur again. Second, there is no indication of where the funds for this tender will be coming from. I have a difficult time supporting spending money when I don't know where it will come from, or what program will be affected.

Following this special meeting, we had the regular Executive Meeting, where we decide what items will be discussed at council next week. I have concerns about one proposed bylaw amendment, which suggests that any request for an administrative report, including one made during the inquiry section of a council meeting, must be made by a motion. If this passes, this means that I will not be able to ask questions of administration without the majority of council members voting to allow me to do so. I'm not sure if this will prevent me from asking questions of administration outside of council meetings - I'm afraid that I will be told that all questions must be approved by council. The proposal would also give the city manager the authority to decide when an inquiry is "stale", and remove it from a list of outstanding items.

This could have the effect of preventing me from following up on citizens' inquiries (like why certain areas don't have recycling bins), or asking questions about expenditures under programs like Neat and Clean. A large part of my job on city council is asking questions - only in that way can I become better informed about what goes on in the city, and pass that information on to the residents of Ward Three. I'm also concerned about the arbitrary removal of items - some of my inquiries have taken several months to get answers; this would prevent me from getting answers ever.

The supposed intent of this bylaw is to prevent administrative staff's time from being wasted in answering what they see as less important questions, so that they can concentrate on large matters such as budgeting, and items that focus on the city's overall plan. I agree that focusing on the big picture is certainly an area that we as a council have neglected, but I also know that when a city resident who pays taxes wants to know why a boulevard is being let run to weeds, he or she deserves an answer, and in a timely fashion. I think that it's presumptious of council to think that they should decide if a taxpayer's question is valid, and I will be asking a lot of questions about this proposed by-law at next week's meeting.

"One who asks a question remains a fool for five minutes; one who doesn't ask a question remains a fool forever." - Chinese proverb

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